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La Bete Winery

La Bete Winery

La Bete Wines is a collaborative effort between John and Kay Kusy-Eliassen. Both John and Kay have been working within the Oregon wine business for over twenty years.

Kay and John worked their first vintage together in Switzerland in 1983. John, a native Oregonian, had worked as a harvest intern with Oregon wineries prior to this. Amateur winemaking led to a full commitment on their parts to work the harvest and vinifications in 1987 at two prestigious Domaines in Burgundy, Domaine des Lambrays, in Morey St. Denis and Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard in Chassagne-Montrachet. John then enrolled in the Oenologie program at the Universite’ de Bourgogne (Dijon) simultaneously with enrollment in the viticulture program at the Lycee Viticole in Beaune.

Kay found employment with renowned exporter Becky Wasserman, as well as producing reports and wine-buying recommendations of Burgundian Domaines for an American importer. Following a year of coursework in French, John graduated with degrees from the Universite’ - Diplome d’Oenologie, and viticulture from Beaune. Amongst his fellow graduates were family members of well-known Burgundian legends; Drouhin, Chapelle, Bize, Roumier, Lafon, etc. John is one of less than a handful of American winemakers to have successfully completed both these curriculums.

Upon return, John worked briefly with two Oregon wineries, then spent a year distilling eau-de-vies and other brandies in Oregon. John then served as winemaker at Veritas Winery in Newberg, Oregon for 5 years. Following this he was winemaker (and Brewmaster) at Golden Valley winery in McMinnville, Oregon. John has also served as consulting winemaker for another Oregon winery, River’s Edge since 1994.


John specifically chose Burgundy to study winemaking to learn the academic as well as “traditional” approaches to producing chardonnay and pinot noir. His course research and theses centered upon the historical or ancient techniques. When they returned to Oregon, Kay and John wanted to establish a wine label which reflected these values and this background. 1998 represented the first release and realization of this dream.

The goal of La Bete Wines is to produce historical Burgundian varieties from top vineyards here in Oregon, stylistically in accordance with historic techniques. La Bete strives to secure the best grapes we can find and establish long-term relationships with outstanding vineyards. As with other top wine producers, establishment of partnerships with high-quality vineyards allows a variety of single vineyard designated wines to be produced. This further allows the winemakers to demonstrate their skills with various sites and micro-climates.

Varieties of wines produced include; Aligote, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Gris (Beurot), Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir.

Careful attention is paid to the yields per acre and working with the individual growers. Grapes are generally late-harvested to achieve optimum ripeness and flavors. Grapes are carefully sorted and selected, then processed emphasizing manual handling.

White wines are whole-cluster pressed with no sulfur added at crush. The juice is settled, activity of native yeast is encouraged, or we use a special yeast strain from Burgundy if necessary. All whites are fermented in either “neutral”, old barrels or in stainless steel drums. Primary fermentation is allowed to progress very-slowly at cool temperatures with some lees agitation in the chardonnay. The activity of indigenous malo-lactic bacteria is encouraged.

Depending upon the vintage, nearly all white wines are allowed to fully complete malo-lactic. White wines are lightly fined using traditional Burgundian methods, carefully racked but generally not filtered at bottling. As a result a fine sediment or slight haze may result. The only white wine which is cellared in a proportion of new French oak is the chardonnay.

Gamay noir is produced using the traditional approach to this varietal. Whole clusters, neither de-stemmed nor crushed, are sealed in a fermentation vessel and allowed to ferment under carbonic conditions.

Pinot noir is de-stemmed very gently resulting in a high proportion of whole berries. A certain portion of whole clusters is used depending upon the vintage. Indigenous or special Burgundian yeast strains are used in the small lot fermenters. Fermenters are punched or “bodily pigead” to assure even ferments and color extraction. The press and free-run lots are separated and cellared in old, neutral barrels.

Typically 20-25% new wood is used. Indigenous malo-lactic bacteria are used. As with all our wines, a respect for seasonal and lunar conditions govern our racking regime, in accordance with ancient Burgundian practices. Pinot noirs are cellared 10-12 months and bottled unfined and un-filtered.

Excerpted with permission from La Bete Winery

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